Columbia Engineering Computer Science Professor Named to Popular Science’s 10th Annual “Brilliant 10”


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Eitan Grinspun Recognized as One of the Top 10 Scientists under 40 in the U.S. for His Work in Computing Motion and Applying it to Hollywood Animations and More
New York, NY—September 15, 2011Eitan Grinspun, associate professor of computer science at Columbia University's Engineering School, has been named to Popular Science's "Brilliant 10," the magazine's annual list of the top 10 researchers in the U.S. Grinspun, who won a Sloan Research Fellowship in 2010, studies the basic rules of motion and turns them into computer programs that are animating Hollywood movies and creating new tools for graphic designers. The programs are also used for medical research, and to study problems involving flexible strands, sheets, liquids, and even icicles. These could have applications for the laying down of transoceanic communications cables, design of nanoscale wiring for stretchable electronics, and faster more compact bottling of shampoo and other thick coiling liquids.
"I am honored that the work conducted by my group at Columbia Engineering has received this unique recognition,” says Grinspun. “It reflects the good fortune that we have had in recruiting the top graduate students and researchers to work together, and establishing close collaborations with the best of partners in both academia and industry, collaborations that have enriched our research experience many times over. The ten scientists honored by Popular Science are carrying out a diverse range of explorations, and to me the magazine's greatest service with this recognition is the emphasis it places on communicating both the promise and the relevance of far-reaching scientific research."
“We are very pleased that Professor Grinspun has been selected as one of Popular Science’s ‘Brilliant 10,’” says Feniosky Peña-Mora, dean of Columbia Engineering. “He is an outstanding example of Columbia Engineering’s exceptional faculty and exemplifies our School’s great tradition of excellence and leadership in both teaching and research. His work has had and will continue to have a broad impact on understanding the motion of materials and we are proud of his wonderful achievements.”
Grinspun, who directs Columbia Engineering’s Computer Graphics Group, part of the Columbia Vision and Graphics Center, has been collaborating with Disney (“Tangled”) and Weta Digital (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), which use his technology to make animated objects move more realistically and to animate grand, complex scenes that would be very expensive to film using real objects.  Adobe Systems Inc. included a new paintbrush tool based on his work as part of its most recent editions of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. “For all of these applications,” he says, “you need to understand the motion of materials and how they behave. We’re bringing to it our knowledge of computers.”
Grinspun, who was born in Israel to Chilean parents and grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Toronto, partners with physicists and mathematicians to determine the best formulas to use as a starting point for his work. From there, his research team refines and customizes the formulas they use in their programs. His approach to computing the motion of materials is radically different from his peers and predecessors. He and his collaborators have pioneered the use of a new kind of mathematics — discrete differential geometry (DDG) — as a new mathematical “language” in which the behavior of physical materials can be described simply and succinctly and directly translated into fast computer codes. By using DDG, Grinspun is able to produce simpler, faster algorithms that “get the physics right” with fewer computer cycles.
For over a decade, the editors of Popular Science have been seeking out promising young researchers at labs across the nation. This year's “Brilliant 10” represent the best of what science can achieve and demonstrate America's continuing cutting-edge research. From diagnosing diseases in developing countries to inventing a new kind of geometry, each of these brilliant scientists and researchers are under 40 and offer everyone reason to be optimistic about the future.
“Our annual 'Brilliant 10' feature is a testament to the importance of scientific research and a salute to the dazzling young minds driving it,” said Mark Jannot, editorial director, the Bonier Technology Group and Editor-in-Chief, Popular Science. “Each year, we solicit nominations from hundreds of eminent scientists and whittle the candidates down to the ones whose work really blows the tops of our heads off. Over the past 10 years, we’ve celebrated the achievements of 100 scientists who are changing the way we look at we look at, and live in, our world, and I can’t wait to see what the next decade brings.”
Columbia Engineering
Columbia University's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, founded in 1864, offers programs in nine departments to both undergraduate and graduate students. With facilities specifically designed and equipped to meet the laboratory and research needs of faculty and students, Columbia Engineering is home to NSF-NIH funded centers in genomic science, molecular nanostructures, materials science, and energy, as well as one of the world’s leading programs in financial engineering. These interdisciplinary centers are leading the way in their respective fields while individual groups of engineers and scientists collaborate to solve some of modern society’s more difficult challenges.



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